Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) has a marked propensity to metastasize to the central nervous system (CNS). In contrast to brain metastases from solid tumours, metastases of ALL seldom involve the parenchyma but are isolated to the leptomeninges, which is an infrequent site for carcinomatous invasion. Although metastasis to the CNS occurs across all subtypes of ALL, a unifying mechanism for invasion has not yet been determined. Here we show that ALL cells in the circulation are unable to breach the blood–brain barrier in mice; instead, they migrate into the CNS along vessels that pass directly between vertebral or calvarial bone marrow and the subarachnoid space.
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